Palace welcomes talks

Dialog with Reds is way to peace — Malacañang

THE Palace welcomed Thursday the statement of the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front on the resumption of formal peace talks in January as CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison said the rebel group is now finally open to negotiating an indefinite ceasefire.

“The government has always believed that dialog provides the most viable opportunity for attaining peace,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said.

Sison said the communist insurgents, after resisting government overtures for an indefinite ceasefire agreement for so long, are now ready to seriously discuss it.

He said an agreement on social and economic reforms can also be hammered out before President Benigno Aquino III steps down in 2016.

“There are possible substantial agreements -- like the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms and an agreement on truce and cooperation -- that can be signed before the end of Aquino’s term,” Sison said.

Presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles confirmed that there have been back-channel talks to resume the peace talks, but clarified that the government wants to clarify certain issues.

“It is true that friends of the process have been shuttling between the two parties to explore possible parameters for restarting talks at the earliest time possible,” Deles said.

“So far, feedback has been positive but there remain matters to be clarified in order to ensure that, if ever we do resume talks, it will not go the same way of an early, major impasse that has happened too often in the past,” she added.

“As we have repeatedly stated since the special negotiations track broke down in February 2013, we want to resume talks on the basis of a doable and time-bound agenda,” Deles stressed.

“In keeping with the spirit and hope of the Christmas season, I would like to think that Mr. Sison’s very positive remarks indicate that common ground between the two parties may indeed be broadening towards the achievement of a just and durable peace that our people desire and deserve,” she added.

Sison earlier disclosed that formal peace talks with the government will resume next month, ending an almost three-year impasse in the negotiations.

Sison said the resumption of the formal peace talks in Oslo will happen after the visit of Pope Francis in January.

He said special teams of both sides have met several times in the Netherlands since September “to iron out kinks.”

“The consensus reached by the special teams concern the agenda and compliance with existing agreements,” the communist leader said.

“There shall be one more meeting of the special teams within the first half of January and then the resumption of formal talks of the panels shall be after the papal visit,” Sison added.

Earlier, New People’s Army spokesman Jorge Madlos said they will release nine policemen and soldiers Friday as a gesture of goodwill, coinciding with the 46th founding anniversary of the CPP.

“They will be released through their respective custodial units of the NPA,” Madlos said, adding that the prisoners will be freed without conditions in the hope that it will lead to the resumption of the peace talks.

Both the government and the NPA have issued extended unilateral ceasefire declarations for the holidays and until the visit of Pope Francis on Jan. 15 to 19.

The CPP also assured the public that there will be no threats against the Pope from their end.

Despite talk of a ceasefire, NPA rebels struck in Panabo town, Davao del Norte Tuesday, taking a jail guard hostage.

The incident prompted the military to call on the rebels to abandon the use of violence as a way of solving the country’s problems.

“It has been proven that nobody is a real winner in bloody armed conflicts. We are witness to the endless misery experienced by our own people who are caught in the crossfire,” AFP Public Affairs Office chief Col. Harold Cabunoc said in a statement.

The military cited different incidents, including the hostage-taking in Mabini, Compostela Valley, in which civilians were held at gunpoint for many hours.

The NPA also hurled a grenade at innocent bystanders in November in Masbate, the military said.

“We are saddened that civilians have fallen victim to the atrocities carried out by the NPA members around the country,” Cabunoc said.

In Davao City, NPA rebels aboard three vehicles intercepted the family of Jose Coquilla, chief of Compostela Valley Provincial Rehabilitation Center at the highway of Brgy Sto. Nino, Panabo City at around 8:30 pm.

Lt. Vergel Alcambra, spokesman of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said Coquilla was with his wife on a board a Navarra pickup truck

The rebels ordered Coquilla’s wife to disembark and took the jail warden hostage.

Soldiers found the abandoned vehicle, but Coquilla remained missing.

The military said “the senseless attacks perpetrated by the NPA against peaceful communities and infrastructure projects have caused more suffering and denied the people of development in the countryside.”

“We must reflect why we have allowed ourselves and our communities to endure 46 years of bloody violence and senseless deaths among fellow Filipinos.

“We can have the choice between a better life for ourselves and our children by embracing peace or continued violence and poverty through bloody armed conflict. The door for reconciliation and healing remains open to all our misguided brothers who want to embrace peace,” the Armed Forces statement said.

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